July 27, 2007
Washington, DC – Despite recent food safety outbreaks, House Democrats betrayed American consumers last night when they added a provision to the Farm Bill (H.R. 2419) that effectively weakens food safety standards and increases the risk of food-borne illness in the U.S.
The bill’s provision allow the vast majority of meat and poultry plants to forgo federal inspection in favor of more lax state inspection—which ultimately risks the health and safety of consumers. The provision eliminates a 40-year old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts that ban shipping state-inspected meat to other states, as individual states do not have the full capacity to implement and track recalls of tainted meat and poultry across state lines. Furthermore, the USDA Office of the Inspector General recently reported that plants subjected to state inspection are not as clean and sanitary as federally inspected plants. Last fall, the OIG released an audit of state inspection that included stomach-turning examples of state programs that failed to meet basic sanitation requirements and were not held accountable for protecting public health.
“It’s a sham to pretend that state inspection systems are equal to federal inspection systems,” said Michael J. Wilson, International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “A public discussion of this issue would have prevented this betrayal and protected American consumers.”
This particular provision was added by the House Agriculture Committee without public hearings and was agreed to by some state officials and food processors. Consumer and public health experts who had concerns about the increased risk of food borne illness because of this provision were shut out of the discussion.
Supporters of the state-inspected meat provision justified it as a way to allow smaller plants to compete in the market. This ignores the fact that thousands of small plants currently thrive under federal inspection by complying with higher food safety standards while also making a profit.
The UFCW is a founding member of the Safe Food Coalition, which consists of consumer groups, groups representing victims of food borne illness, and watchdog groups dedicated to reducing the incidence of food borne illness in the U.S.